Europa, Europa (1991)

 

 

Director:  Agnieszka Holland.

Starring:  Marco Hofschneider (Salomon 'Solly' 'Salek' Perel/Josef 'Jupp' Peters),  Rene Hofschneider (Isaak), Julie Delpy (Leni),  Ashley Wanninger (Gerd), Piotr Kozlowski (David),  Halina Labornarska (Leni's mother),  Andr Wilms (German soldier Robert Kellerman),  Klaus Abramowsky (Solomon's Father), MichPle Gleizer (Solomon's Mother), Marta Sandrowicz (Bertha), Nathalie Schmidt (Basia).

This French-German movie is based on the autobiography of Solomon Perel.  It tells the story of a young German Jewish boy who escapes from the Nazi authorities and hides his true identity only to be eventually snagged and thrown into the German army.  The movies deals with the conflicts within a young boy having to grow up fast in fascist hell. 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Good movie.  This is the true story of Solomon Perel.  He was born April 20, 1925 in Peine, Germany, the fourth child of Azriel and Rebecca Perel.  His father was a shoe store owner.  He tells the viewers that they will never believe him, but that he remembers his circumcision when he was a mere baby.  As a boy there were Hitler Youth marches outside their apartment.  Stars of David would be painted on the living quarters of the Jewish inhabitants.  As Solomon (nicknamed Solly) takes a bath, the Hitler Youth and others start throwing rock through their windows.  Solomon hides in an empty barrel behind the house.  When he finally comes out from hiding he finds that his sister has been killed. 

The family moved to Lodz, where the father was from.  They got Polish passports.  Solomon decides he wants to be an  actor.  War breaks out with the German and Russian invasions of Poland.  The family makes the decision to send the two younger brothers Isaac and Solomon away.  But as they make their get-away, Isaac and Solomon get separated on either side of a river.   On one side are the Russians and on the other side the Germans.  Solomon chooses to make for the Russian side of the river and is saved by a Russian soldier who jumps into the river after him. 

Solomon stays in a Soviet orphanage for two years in Grodno where they make him into a Soviet patriot and good communist.  He becomes a member of the komsomol (the Communist Union of Youth).  They teach him that God does not exist and that religion is the opiate of the masses. 

And then his world is turned upside down again.  The Germans attack the Soviet Union and Solomon is once again a refugee.  He gets separated from his orphanage chums and a German soldier grabs him.  The Germans request that all Jews move up front.  Since Solomon knows what will happen if he reveals his Jewish background, he tells his captors that he is a good German from Grodno.  The story gets interpreted as the Bolsheviks killed his parents.  This wins the sympathy of the German soldiers to Solomon (who is now called Jupp). 

Jupp is soon fighting alongside German troops and serving as a translator (sine he knows both German and Russian).  One of the German soldiers, Robert, learns that Jupp is Jewish, but he promises Jupp that he will never tell anyone.  In a Russian attack all the German soldiers in Jupp's unit, including Robert, are killed.  Jupp is the only survivor.  He arranges his surrender with one of the Russian units in the area.  He is to come over the bridge at a given time at night with his rifle held way above his head.  At the appointed time, Jupp carries out the instructions and charges across the bridge with his rifle held aloft.  But, unknown to him, the German soldiers in the area are inspired by his example and rush behind him at the Russian lines.  The Russian troops surrender holding their weapons high above their heads and Jupp is now a hero.  He has also captured the admiration of the German officer Hauptmann, who wants to adopt Jupp and send him to the most elite Hitler Youth school in Germany.  

The next stop is the Hitler Youth school.  Jupp is introduced as a German hero of the front and he becomes the dream boat of the young Aryan girls who work for the school.  Leni takes a special liking to Jupp and Jupp likes her too.  At the school, Jupp is often shocked at just how much hatred of the Jews is taught by the teachers of the school. 

When the Germans lose the Battle of Stalingrad, Jupp has to cry along with his Hitler Youth colleagues. 

One of Jupp's biggest worries is that his true identity will be revealed if any of the Germans see his circumcision.  For fear of exposure, he can't even have full sex with the very willing and able Leni.  Leni decides that she must have a baby for the Fuhrer and so she gets pregnant by the Aryan Gerd, one of Jupp's best friends at the school.  This deeply upsets Jupp.  He finally confesses to Leni's suspicious mother that he is Jewish.  He tells her that "I had to tell someone."  The pressure was proving too much of a strain on him.  Leni's mother promises not to betray him. 

Jupp is told to report to the local police station to answer questions about his missing papers.  The fellow at the police station wants to know where is Jupp's certificate of racial purity.  When Jupp tells him that the records are in Grodno, he tells Jupp that he will have to sent to Grodno for the missing papers.  Luckily for Jupp, a bombing raid destroys the police station and the police official who had interviewed him.

Soon Jupp is once again fighting against the oncoming Russians.  When they get near enough, Jupp runs to their lines to surrender.  The Russians listen to his story, but only accuse him of being a Jewish traitor and turn him over for punishment to the recently released Jewish concentration camp victims.  Jupp is saved from harm by his brother Isaac who is one of the concentration camp victims.   Isaac tells Solomon that the rest of his family have been killed by the Germans.

Solomon travels to Palestine and later becomes a resident of Israel.

Solomon's story gives the viewer somewhat of an idea of just how terrorizing it was for the Jews under German domination.  He lived constantly with the fear of being discovered and possibly killed.  He also had to deal with feelings of guilt at denying his Jewish heritage and pretending to be a good Nazi. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

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